Posted by Albert Gersh - February 25, 2014
- Iran FM: Islamic Republic is "open for business"
- Calls grow for Turkey PM's resignation after bombshell audio tapes leaked
- Hezbollah recruited European radicals to fight in Syria
- Damage control efforts deepen after Reuters details Iraq-Iran arms deal contracts
- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on Sunday declared that ongoing sanctions relief has created a "safe, stable business environment" in Iran and that the country is now "open for business," a direct response to statements maintaining that the Islamic republic is "not open for business" from among others Treasury Department Under Secretary David Cohen, State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, and various anonymous administration officials. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have both explicitly echoed those statements. At stake are a broad range of criticisms worrying that the administration mishandled interim negotiations with Iran, in this context by underestimating the degree to which an initial erosion in the sanctions regime would trigger a downward spiral, with Iran’s markets and as companies rushing not to be left. Skeptics had immediately predicted that the psychology of fear which kept sanctions in place would give way to a feeding frenzy, while analysts linked to the White House dismissed their concerns as "fanciful." Evidence has piled up on the side of the skeptics. On Tuesday Reuters reported that India is preparing to pay $1.5 billion for Iranian oil, while the Washington Free Beacon disclosed that Pentagon contractors are exploring over $100 billion in deals with Iran.
- Ongoing political warfare in Turkey - which has pitted the country's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) against rival Islamists linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen - has generated renewed calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the publication of audio recordings that seemed to document Erodgan and his son Bilal discussing how to hide immense sums of money. The conversations were allegedly held the eve of a corruption scandal that would eventually engulf several AKP elites, and Bilal himself was at one point brought in for questioning in relation to the sweeping graft probe. AKP leaders for their part have purged thousands of judges, prosecutors, and police figures, and - as evidence of corruption piled up – have sought to scapegoat Jews and foreign lobbies. The latest iteration of the scandal saw the release of five recordings - seemingly wiretapped phone conversations - in which Erdogan and his son discussed how to shield vast amounts of cash from police scrutiny. Erdogan on Tuesday forcefully denounced the recordings as forgeries, and meanwhile reportedly blamed the "robot lobby" for seeking to undermine AKP rule via Twitter. The Turkish leader has repeatedly lashed out against the microblogging platform.
- Hezbollah has recruited Shiite radicals from inside Europe to travel to Syria and fight on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, according to reports published in Lebanese media earlier this week and conveyed Monday by the Jerusalem Post. Lebanon's Daily Star had quoted a source describing an Eastern European intelligence assessment detailing how “most of these fighters have professional military experience and have fought in Chechnya." If confirmed the development has the potential to affect a range of policy debates and calculations. Inside the European Union, there is a long-standing and ongoing reluctance to designating Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. The Iran-backed organization was definitively linked to a terrorist attack in Bulgaria, on E.U. soil, that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian, the latter being an E.U. citizen. Even under those conditions - and after months of contentious diplomacy - the E.U. limited itself to labeling Hezbollah's military wing a terrorist entity and sparing the group’s political wing, despite explicit statements from top Hezbollah leaders deriding the notion that there is a distinction between the two wings. Regarding Syria, Western capitals have expressed pitched concerns over the possibility that Sunni fighters from Europe are traveling to participate in the country's nearly four year war, and that they may eventually return further radicalized and battle-hardened. The controversy has been mobilized to highlight the dangers posed by jihadists, and even to suggest that the West and the regime’s backers have a shared interest in battling terror groups. Evidence that the Assad regime is availing itself of European fighters risks complicating that position.
- Both Washington and Baghdad continued to scramble on Tuesday in the wake of a Reuters expose documenting a $195 million security deal, spread across eight different contracts, which would see Iraq purchasing weapons from Iran. The move would be violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting trading arms with the Islamic Republic. The Obama administration, which has been criticized for allowing Iraq to slip into Iran's orbit even as the U.S. continued supplying Baghdad with Hellfire missiles and small arms, assured journalists that American officials were pressing for answers at the highest levels. The Iraqis for their part admitted that Iranian companies bid on ammunition contracts, but denied that any such deals had been signed with Iran. A full list of the contracts - detailing dollar amounts and the types of weapons to be delivered - is here. The documents seen by Reuters reportedly described the agreements as having been inked last November.
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